A young, up-and-coming club, the Carolina Panthers showcased some serious promise in 2011 for the upcoming season.

Five of the team’s eight defeats came by eight points or less.  The offense finished just outside of the top dozen in passing and was seventh in yards (389.8 YPG), fifth in scoring (25.4 PPG) and third in rushing (150.5 YPG).

Nevertheless, the defense was—simply put—atrocious, and by far the club’s biggest weakness.

The Panthers were 24th or worse across the board in total defense, points allowed, against the run and against the pass.

Expect Carolina to address the entire defense in the upcoming draft, but also add more prowess to its offense.  Here’s our first seven-round 2012 NFL mock draft on the Panthers.

 

1st Round (9th Overall): Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

An old-school, hard-nosed run-stuffer, Luke Kuechly is an intelligent linebacker and instinctive playmaker.

Jon Beason missed all but one game in 2011 with an injury and Thomas Davis has struggled to stay healthy in the past.

After the defense finished near the bottom of the NFL last season, linebacker is obviously one of the team’s most pressing needs.  In addition, with the ninth overall selection, Kuechly appears to be the best prospect available that addresses a key weakness.

 

2nd Round (40th Overall): Jerrel Worthy DT, Michigan State

A three-technique defensive tackle equipped with long arms and a quick first step, Jerel Worthy is a perfect fit in the second round to bolster the Panthers’ interior defensive line.

With Sione Fua and Terrell McClain having flopped on the field in their rookie campaigns last year, Worthy will be worthy of starting spot the second he’s snatch by Carolina.

 

4th Round (104th Overall): Trumaine Johnson CB Montana

A very long and fluid athlete with size and speed to develop into a strong press corner, Trumaine Johnson made 54 tackles and two picks last season with Montana.  His weakness consists of his feast-or-famine approach to always trying to make the big play.

The small school prospect visited with the team in March and addresses a serious need in the secondary opposite Chris Gamble.

 

5th Round (143rd Overall): Greg Childs, WR, Arkansas

The Panthers provide quarterback Cam Newton with another weapon with an addition of Greg Childs with their fifth-round selection.  According to ESPN’s Adam Shefter, the team “really likes” third-year wide receiver Brandon LaFell and believes he’s “poised for a breakout season.”  LaFell averaged 17 yards per reception last season and it’s pretty common for players to break out in their third year.

An athletic, productive option, Childs comes off a knee injury last season, which forced him to miss the final five games and suffer a steep decline in his draft stock, despite an impressive 4.39 time in his 40-yard dash at Arkansas’ Pro Day.

As a sophomore, he had 48 catches for 894 yards and seven scores, and racked up 46 receptions for 659 yards with six touchdowns in 2011.  If he’s back to full health, Childs will be a big steal for the Panthers and could provide a serious impact on special teams as a returner as well.

 

6th Round (180th Overall): Kelcie McCray S, Arkansas State

Carolina continues to strengthen its secondary and adds depth to the safety position.  Kelcie McCray made 70 tackles in 13 contests in 2011.  The Arkansas State product, like most late-round prospects, is a developmental player, equipped with excellent straight-line speed.

McCray performs well in man coverage and open field situations, but can get lost against the run.

 

6th Round (207th Overall): Ronald Leary, OT, Memphis

After addressing the offensive line on the open market, the Panthers wait until their compensation selection in the sixth round before beefing up the depth with the O-Line in the draft.  Due to his minor injuries, Ronald Leary switched back and forth from guard to tackle in college, which might have made scouts skeptical on how he’ll respond on the line at the next level.

However, a number of teams could see that as a positive for flexibility.  Moreover, Leary was a three-year starter for the Memphis Tigers with 36 straight starts and developed into an experienced edge blocker and valuable player for the Tigers.

 

7th Round (216th Overall): Randy Bullock, K, Texas A&M

Child, please.  A kicker?  Yes, sir.  Olindo Mare isn’t getting any younger or consistent and Randy Bullockis one of the top kickers in this class, having made 29 of 33 attempts on field goals at Texas A&M.